Letter: Amazing raptor display at Wavecrest now

Letter to the editor

Posted by on Thu, September 13, 2007

Brett Donald via Wikipedia
Black-shouldered Kite

Yesterday morning I walked from the Poplar Ave parking lot to the big ravine a half mile south where the steps are planned to be built, and was surprised to see many dozens of Black Shouldered Kites [photo], easily 70 either sitting in groups of a dozen to three dozen (I’ve never seen this before with this species), while four or five other species of hawks also flew about or rested in the area: Northern harriers, Red tails, Red shouldered, Sharp shinned hawks and kestrels were all on display.

Well worth your time to see this amazing occurrence that may not last long—there can’t possibly be enough game to sustain the numbers for any time at all. Take a good pair of binocs.

Ken King
Half Moon Bay

Comment 1
Thu, September 13, 2007 11:34pm
Darin Boville
All my comments

Ken’s not kidding—and this isn’t a “birder’s only” sort of thing. I was down there Tuesday shooting video and it was almost too much—everywhere I looked there were large raptors doing their thing.

Ken’s the expert, not me, but the harriers you can pick out easily by the big white spot at the base of their tale and by the amazing, fighter-jet-like flying technique they use. They zoom over the ground, just above grass level looking for prey and make these improbable-looking, hairpin, twisty turns and brief hovers. Astonishing to watch.

The kites are also highly unusual in their behavior. Instead of swooping like the harriers they pick a vantage point about thirty feet up in mid-air and flap their wings against the wind in such a way that they hover in one spot while they scan the ground below.

Well worth the effort to see—even for a few minutes. It’s that easy to find them…(you can go north, too, along the paved trail—there you can be perplexed at the many people who walk by unaware of the nature show taking place just a few feet away…)


Comment 2
Fri, September 14, 2007 3:51pm
Ken King
All my comments

Today around noon Kathryn Slater-Carter and I entered Wavecrest by way of the road’s end at Smith Field and found approximately 35 Kites sitting in the cypress and shrubs 300 yards to the northwest of the parking lot. The best time to see them actively hunting is between 5 and 7 pm. The only other raptors we saw were a Red tailed hawk and Kestrel. Also flushed a Grasshopper Sparrow in fall plumage that nicely posed for us!

Comment 3
Fri, September 14, 2007 4:05pm
Darin Boville
All my comments

I was there, too, from 8:30 to 10:30. I walked through Wavecrest then headed north past the Poplar parking area. The harriers are all in the field along the paved portion—at least four of them. Lots of kites (they seem to hate my video camera—maybe the tripod is freaking them out?). A blue heron also arrived at about 10:00—not the usual one—this one was *very* skittish when I got anywhere inside of 150 feet or so…very cool.

Comment 4
Fri, September 14, 2007 4:32pm
Mike Ferreira
All my comments

This afternoon at 4:00 there was a small herd of deer (7) grazing in the mowed portion of Wavecrest about 200 yards from the highway.

If anyone has a photo of the ‘dozens of Black shouldered kites’ it would be great to see that posted here.  The link above is returning an invalid URI—maybe repost?


Comment 6
Sun, September 16, 2007 9:29pm
Jack Sutton
All my comments

I took my camera down on Friday to get some pictures of the Black-shouldered Kite. They must have been on an extended lunch break, but I did see one, but too far for a good pic. However, I ran into a very proud Red Tailed Hawk (I think, I’m not a bird expert, just a bird admirer) and he was very pleased to allow me to photograph him. Keep the reports of the Black-shouldered Kites coming, or any other birds for that matter as we live in a rich and diverse bird paradise, and I will try to get down into the action faster.

Comment 7
Mon, September 17, 2007 11:13am
Barry Parr
All my comments

I fixed the link to the photo in Ken’s letter, and it’s still worth checking out. It’s a remarkable picture:


Comment 8
Mon, September 17, 2007 10:41pm
Ken King
All my comments

This evening I again parked at Poplar at 5:45 pm and observed 15 Kites from the parking lot, 13 of them north of Poplar either sitting around on the waste-high weeds on the east side of the field (near the homes), or flying about. They are large mostly white birds you will also see in the Monterey Cypress trees both north and south of the Poplar parking lot.

Good binoculars are necessary to enjoy this experience because the birds are somewhat spread out or high in the trees.

Continuing south over the Seymour Bridge into Wavecrest, there were another 27 Kites visible between the next two stands of cypresses, along with many other species of hawk flying about. When you clear the last row of cypress and come into the open field directly below the Smith Field baseball area and look back at the cypress trees as they spread east, there were another 35 in those trees, and another 25 in the foreground on bushes, or directly to the south in the willows in the arroyo near Redondo Beach Road. And there were lots of other hawks out hunting as well.

As dusk set in three Barn Owls began actively patrolling the fields as the kites settled in for the night; it was a seamless transition.

Comment 9
Tue, September 18, 2007 11:22am
Gary Deghi
All my comments

Sequoia Audubon Society, the local Audubon chapter, has been publicizing the value of the Wavecrest area as a foraging habitat for wintering raptors for years.  SAS considers the Wavecrest area to be the most important wintering raptor habitat in San Mateo County, both in terms of the numbers of birds and the variety of species. Wintering species include large numbers of red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks, northern harriers, white-tailed kites, American kestrels and barn owls, and other species including short-eared owl, great horned owl, Cooper’s hawk and sharp-shinned hawk.  Many rare species have been sighted here including golden eagle, ferruginous hawk, rough-legged hawk, peregrine falcon, prairie falcon and merlin.  A Swainson’s hawk that spent the winter of 1998-1999, was the first record of wintering Swainson’s hawk ever in coastal Northern California. Short-eared owl is a designated species of special concern in California, and a population of this species winters at Wavecrest every year. I have seen up to as many as eight at one time, though the number of wintering birds usually ranges between one and five.  A field trip that I lead for SAS every Jaunuary, specifically to see the short-eared owls, has become one of the most popular trips for our organization.

I went to the area just northwest of the ballfieds with my wife Sunday evening, and while standing in one spot, counted 65 white-tailed kites, mostly congregating in the cypress trees in the first row of cypresses north of the ballfields. By the way, this species was at one time referred to as the black-shouldered kite when it was considered con-specific with similar Old World kites, but the white-tailed kite in North America is now considered a separate species. I was also out with Ken King last night to witness the flight of a portion of the kites to the arroyo located to the south within Wavecrest, where it appeared that about 30 of the birds were to roost for the night.  Roosting of white-tailed kites in large groups during late fall and winter is a phenomenon for which this gregarious species is known, particularly in California and Texas. Ken King and I are convinced that the population of kites roosting at Wavecrest now could be in the order of about 100 birds.

SAS is grateful to POST for preserving these vital resources through purchase of this area.  If you have not been out to witness the white-tailed kites I highly recommend getting out there.  This is really quite phenomenal.

Comment 10
Sun, September 23, 2007 8:08pm
Jack Sutton
All my comments

Some photos I shot today.
Click on image for larger size.
Another Picture


Comment 11
Sun, September 23, 2007 8:57pm
Ken King
All my comments

Innocuous-sounding “Another picture” by Jack Sutton blew my loafers off, my socks along with them. “Wow!” does not do it justice, Jack.

These spectacular birds are still around for those willing to venture into the fields from either Smith Field or south from the Kelly Avenue parking lot.

Comment 12
Sun, September 30, 2007 5:51pm
Matt Berman
All my comments

You’re right—this is easy. I biked over to Wavecrest, took out the camera, and within 5 minutes was able to get shots of kites and hawks. Here are a couple (the large versions are here and here):

Thanks, all—this was fun.